Beer and Pavement

Playing Favorites

Posted in Intersections, Life, Manifesto by SM on March 15, 2012

Do you play favorites?

Martyn Cornell, AKA The Zythophile, did this bit praising brown beer. While most in the comments and among the beery blogosphere have chosen to focus on Martyn’s ode to brown bitter, I walked away (virtually) with a different message. Martyn’s post is about how we can’t really claim to like beer if we have favorite beer styles.

What spoke to me was a comparison to music (in a beer blog – I’m partial). One can’t claim to love music if all he likes is one particular genre or artist. We’re limited by favorites and we fail to listen or search out new music if we continually turn back to the same old same old. Granted, I proclaim Pavement as my favorite band of all-time, but I’m not limited by this declaration.

Martyn goes on to demonstrate how he doesn’t have a favorite music or beer, but there are things he could handle over an extended period with one kind of music or beer. He names quite a wide range of music he likes. However, the post is about his love for English bitter, a style that would suit him for a time if that’s all he could drink.

I get this.

Some of you may not be aware that I taught fourth and fifth grades for ten years. When one teaches facilitates the learning of 9-11 year-olds, it’s easy to pick out favorites. There’s the really bright-but-shy kid who always saves the day with her insights. I always had a soft spot in my heart for the kid who had everything going against him, but he showed up at school everyday, ready to learn. I could go on and on, but the point is that playing favorites limits us. If I had spent all my time and efforts on those few favorites, I wouldn’t have discovered the gifts of my other students. More importantly, I would have done a disservice to those who were not my favorites.

You don’t like beer if you only order one style at the bar. Think of all those other breweries and styles on which you’re missing. I honestly drink a lot of IPA’s and DIPA’s. However, I don’t know that I would truly appreciate these beers had I not begun to branch out into sweeter or more sour territory. In fact, I often have nothing hoppy on-hand since discovering many other styles of beer. (Plus, these beers are best enjoyed fresh. So, they don’t stay around long.) It’s better to not play favorites in this instance as sticking to one beer or style gives one nothing with which to compare.

The same can be said for music. Listening to the same albums and bands over and over only means that you’re not listening to something else, possibly something new. It’s easy to fall into ruts, wondering whether or not you have the energy to pursue new music. We should branch out now and again with our listening habits. Even when I lump all of the music I favor into the category “indie rock”, I fully recognize that there’s an incredible amount of variety, so much variety that it’s silly to name it all using the same ambiguous label. I can say that I love music because I truly love many kinds of music.

Now, all of this love for variety does not necessarily mean that we don’t linger with a few favorites gems. I still listen to at least one Pavement album a week. Last night, I ordered a double IPA from Six Row followed by a Green Flash Barley Wine at dinner. Insound is sending me an LP by Lee Renaldo and The Shins shortly after. My last beer I brewed was a repeated fav, Big Black. Old habits die hard. Creature comforts are…well…comfortable.

Yes, we’ll say that we have favorites, but by definition, we would consume little or nothing else. That definition?* Preferred before all others of the same kind. So, for my purposes here, I’m looking at how this manifests to the extreme.

If IPA’s and Pavement were my favorites, I wouldn’t be listening to Beach House as I type this, wondering when is the right time to pop open that Lou Pepe. Maybe there should be a better term for what Martyn describes and I’m ripping off, but, for now, let’s not play favorites.

*This is for Bill. Although, I doubt it will satisfy him. I just hope it clarifies from where I’m coming.

Update: Please read the comment thread, particularly Bill’s comments. My intention was not to make music and beer exclusionary, but that’s the message I sent. I’ll leave the post up as is, but you should read the entire discussion.

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11 Responses

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  1. Bill Farr said, on March 15, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    A rebuttal: Of COURSE a person can legitimately claim to like beer even if she or he only drinks one or two kinds, or likes music even if she or he only listens to a small range of artists, or likes, say, baseball even if she or he only likes MLB and never watched the minor leagues or college or high school or Little League. These folks aren’t claiming to be experts — they’re simply saying they like X. “Experts” saying these folks are somehow wrong have to be breaking a huge bunch of the rules you set up a few months back. Saying that someone doesn’t really like beer if they have a favorite beer or beer style? That’s called being a jerk.

    “[You] could go on and on, but the point is playing favorites limits us.” Sure, that’s tragic when we do it with people, but when we do it with beer or music or sports or what-have you: so what? Here’s the thing: the argument that there are richer experiences awaiting us in a given realm if only we’d explore more overlooks the fact that we have the whole world to choose from, and limiting ourselves knowingly or unknowingly in a given arena doesn’t mean meaning and enjoyment and satisfaction and valid places to place energy aren’t coming from totally different arenas, ranging from family, love, work down to hobbies and lifestyle choices. Yep, somebody might get more enjoyment by exploring different types of music… but it might be at the expense of something else into which they put time and energy.

    To go further: let’s say you had to stop drinking forever tomorrow and lost a huge chunk of your hearing. I’d bet getting used to this would be much easier than you think because other things would fill the satisfaction/enjoyment/meaning gap. Finances have meant many many things I enjoy are out of my reach, geography means many activities I enjoy are unavailable. My life is no less full. I have the memories, the possibility that I’ll get to do/enjoy things again, and the knowledge that I’m directing that energy and time into other meaningful arenas.

    And your definition of favorite? “Yes, we’ll say that we have favorites, but by definition, we would consume little or nothing else.” Huh? I have a favorite baseball team. I’m nowhere near it, and don’t have cable, so I watch/listen to the games of my local teams. I have a favorite whisky. I can’t afford it, so occasionally have other whiskies, and it’s been a couple of years since I had my favorite. I have a favorite rock band, and a favorite trad artist, and a favorite symphony, and I listen to way way more other groups and compositions way way more often than I do my favorite. Wouldn’t you say that a better definition of favorite would be “the one I enjoy the most?” Nothing about “favorite” denotes (or even connotes) exclusivity.

    Stan Hieronymous has his list of beer rules. If this isn’t one, it should be: Before pronouncing that people who only drink X don’t like beer, make sure you can explain why they’re spending all that time drinking something they don’t like.

    • Zac said, on March 15, 2012 at 12:48 pm

      Obviously, I wasn’t clear. This is what I get for blogging when I can’t sleep.

      The largest issue in this mis-communication has to do with the oversimplification of the term “favorite”. I get that.

      Let’s say that your favorite beer style is an IPA. You go to a bar with several beers on tap, but the only beer you order is the IPA. Every restaurant, bar, and store contains a nice variety, but all you ever try are the IPA’s. I’d contend that you don’t like beer. You like IPA’s If you liked beer, you’d drink the stout I tried to serve you instead of insisting on another IPA.

      Consider all the supposed beer lovers who only drink light, industrial, rice-adjunct lager. They don’t really love beer, they love one kind of beer.

      With music, it works the same way. If all you listen to is country music, you can’t really say you’re a fan of all music. You’re a country music fan.

      Your point concerning my “definition” is a good one. I’m really unclear there. Something didn’t get recorded properly at 4 AM.

    • Zac said, on March 15, 2012 at 12:57 pm

      Also, your baseball analogy doesn’t work here. All baseball teams are participating in the exact same game. An IPA and Belgian Quad are very different kinds of beer.

  2. Bill Farr said, on March 15, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    To contend that the person who only drinks IPAs doesn’t like beer is to be mistaken. Liking one type of beer is liking beer. “Beer” does not equal “All types of beer.” Or “most types of beer.” But your example is kind of fake, isn’t it? It presupposes the IPA-lover has never tried anything but IPAs — otherwise, he/she would pass your test. He/she would know he/she didn’t like stout, etc., because of prior experience. That is, they were open to different experiences.

    If I didn’t like stout, I would politely refuse the stout you served me. If I liked another type of beer, I could say I liked beer, and could prove it, by drinking that beer. The beer drinkers who drink nothing but adjunct lagers like beer. If they didn’t like beer, why are they drinking beer?

    I mean, where’s your cut-off? And how is that cut-off anything but elitism and saying “you’re in the club, but you’re not?” Let’s say a person has tried a bunch of beers, most of which he or she doesn’t like. He or she drinks the ones he/she likes. Do they not like beer? Go overseas — someone in Bavaria who only drinks local brews and the occasional national brand because that’s what’s there — do they not like beer? Someone in Tuscany who only drinks wines from Tuscany — do they not like wine? Professional musicians who live and breathe, say, Baroque-period music and have no time to explore other genres beyond things in what’s termed classical — do they not like music?

    It comes down to this: telling people that they don’t actually like something they like is a really jerky thing to do. Who are you or Martyn Cornell to tell somebody they don’t like what they like?

    Baseball at the Little League level is clearly a different game than baseball at the major league level even as the rules are mostly the same. And I can assure you that the major league baseball played by the Red Sox differs from that played by the White Sox or Cubs much in the same way two beer styles differ. Last year’s Boston team finished weak and left a bitter aftertaste. The Chicago teams were sour all the way through.

  3. Zac said, on March 15, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    I hope you are having some fun with this. It’s so hard to read tone in threads like this. Otherwise, you’re taking this too seriously, too literally. If you’re not having fun and are actually offended, we should probably stop here. None of this is meant to be personal. Again, it’s hard to read tone on the internet.

    Look, if you choose to drink beer in any capacity, you like beer. Fine. It’s not a black/white issue. I’m not going around judging what or what variety people are drinking. The point is somewhat abstract or philosophical. Your interpretation of what I wrote is too literal. At least that’s how I’m reading your response.

    The idea is that an unwillingness to try other beers or music and to routinely object to a majority of either suggests that you don’t really like beer or music. What you like are a set of unique characteristics or aesthetics. This is limiting your experience, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m pretty certain I didn’t say there was anything wrong with any of this. I was simply supporting a philosophical position, not a practice or rule or whatever.

    The elitism bit holds no water. I didn’t say there was a club or that one would have to appreciate certain beers to be in this imaginary club. In fact, elitism exists in the beer community due to the very thing I’m protesting. I have sat in tastings where everyone brings beer they want to share with the group and some of our club members would literally turn their nose up at some beers they deemed to be pedestrian. Who’s limiting their experience? Who’s being elitist?

    Seriously, Bill, I hope you’re just having some fun with this. It’s not that important and it certainly isn’t binding. I read a blog post when I should have been sleeping and had an idea for a blog post. That’s all. Maybe it deserves a deeper look and a more thoughtful post, but it’s nothing to get worked up over.

    • Bill Farr said, on March 16, 2012 at 10:56 am

      I’m having fun with Boston vs. Chicago. But, and forgive me, I’m serious about the bit about experts deciding who does and doesn’t love something. “Martyn’s post is about how we can’t really claim to like beer if we have favorite beer styles.” “One can’t claim to love music if all he likes is one particular genre or artist.” “You don’t like beer if you only order one style at the bar.” “I can say that I love music because I truly love many kinds of music.” But if a person only likes one type of beer or music, they, too can say that they like beer or music. And it makes no sense to tell them that they don’t.

      You might know more about the topics than others, you might be a connoisseur or aficionado… but to say that others don’t like what they like unless they do X is wrong. It’s snobby. It says “you’re in or out of the club.” It doesn’t matter whether person x is or isn’t willing to explore more deeply. “The idea is that an unwillingness to try other beers or music and to routinely object to a majority of either suggests that you don’t really like beer or music.” That’s simply not true. Folks who fall in that camp have different experiences than yours, but that doesn’t make them any less valid.

      I came to this blog after Stan posted your “annoying things experts do” post, because I was excited to find someone who could talk about love of beer and music w/o resorting to the us/them mentality found on both beer forums and music forums. I figured my musical horizons would expand a bit. I figured you are mostly serious about getting fans of one to appreciate the other, and the other the one. You’re a writer, and know the power of words. So to tell folks you’re trying to bring together that they don’t really like the stuff they like if they don’t keep exploring really rubs me the wrong way. Again, if you believe that, then where’s the cut-off? Doesn’t that point out the absurdity of what you’re saying?

      I stop after three comments. It’s your blog, and you do a great job with your posts. I just wish you’d examine your assertion about whether folks who do X like/do not like music/beer further.

      • Zac said, on March 16, 2012 at 11:10 am

        I get it. I really do.

        What you describe was not my intention. However, if that’s how you read it (and it seems you’re not the only one), then that’s what I said. I have a philosophy that no matter what one means to say, if others perceive it another way, then that’s what you said. Again, I’m making little sense.

        You’re right, Bill. When I wrote this post, I had no idea that it would send such a message. Honestly, I had a similar reaction to Martyn’s post. Then I thought about it for a while in a sleepy stupor and saw it as more of a way to promote his favorite kind of beer instead of automatically dismiss it because it wasn’t your thing.

        Since you are a regular reader, you know that I typically fight against the snobbery you describe. I want to promote the music and beer I love, not discourage others from trying it. However, if you read the message that beer and music are exclusionary, then I failed in getting my message across. Thanks for the kind words and keeping me honest. I may revisit this issue soon.

  4. leighgoodstuff said, on March 16, 2012 at 3:04 am

    Yeah, you can have a favourite, without the whole world crashing down around us. I totally get Martyn’s peice, but I think it’s concentrating on the wrong theme. Firstly, it’s possible to have many ‘faves’ – but I find these beers are usually linked to experiences rather than what it is. Secondly, it’s human nature / genetics to favour one set of flavours over another – albeit subliminally sometimes. We are hard-wired to have favourites of everything – beer, music, film….

    • Zac said, on March 16, 2012 at 9:36 am

      No, I agree with this assessment. Somehow, my point was not clear. And at this moment, I’m not even sure what my original point was. Obviously, using the term “favorite/favourite” is a bit too imprecise. It sounded good in the middle of the night when I supposed to be in bed. I think what I’m getting at is the idea of “playing favorites” and never taking risks or expanding our perspectives. Oh well. On to the next post…

      • leighgoodstuff said, on March 18, 2012 at 10:56 am

        ok, I get what you mean now – more to do with the term!

      • Zac said, on March 20, 2012 at 9:30 am

        Yeah. It seems I botched this post. Maybe next time…

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